Cars buck downward trend of EU carbon emissions

kade rechteroever

Total greenhouse gas emissions fell by 24% between 1990 and 2014 but road transport emissions rose by 17%, European Environment Agency data shows


Road transport has bucked a downward trend in European greenhouse gas emissions, growing by 17% between 1990 and 2014, at the same time that emissions from other sectors fell by almost a quarter.

Cars, vans and lorries reported the biggest absolute increase of any sector in CO2 emissions over the last 25 years, growing by 124 megatonnes (Mt), European Environment Agency (EEA) data published on Tuesday shows.

Volkswagen’s use of defeat devices to beat car emissions tests spotlighted the industry’s climate record last year, and was quickly followed by revelations of lobbying by EU governments to keep loopholes in CO2 tests.

However, the automobile sector is not alone in swimming against the green tide on emissions reductions. The EEA data shows CO2 pollution from aviation soared by a staggering 82% since 1990, with a 93Mt increase in emissions

Jos Dings, the director of the Transport and Environment campaign group, said: “These numbers serve as a wake-up call to those who thought that Europe was turning the corner on its transport emissions. Transport is now without question Europe’s biggest climate problem.

“The European commission has no choice but to help member states and come with an ambitious ‘efficiency and electrification’ strategy for transport with new car and truck CO2 standards by 2025.”

The European commission is currently assessing its options for regulating car emissions. These are due to deliver a large chunk of the bloc’s overall 40% emissions cut by 2030, as pledged at last year’s Paris conference.

The plans are facing pushback from the car industry though, which argues that it has already shouldered costly fuel economy improvements and cannot take on more, without passing the cost through to consumers.

A spokesman for the European Automobile Manufacturers Association said: “Despite the CO2 reductions delivered by manufacturers for new vehicles, progress in reducing the overall road transport emissions has not followed the same pace, largely due to huge increases in transport demand. What this shows is that the challenge cannot be adequately addressed by solely focusing on reducing emissions from new vehicles, given that they only make up 5% of Europe’s fleet.”

He added that this meant it was time to look at how existing vehicles are used. “This includes the carbon content of fuels, driver behaviour, infrastructure, as well as the potential of car connectivity and intelligent transport systems (ITS).”


The industry’s position has won the sympathy of oil companies, which also oppose fuel economy targets for 2025 and 2030.

Speaking at a joint meeting with VW in April, Colin Crooks, Shell’s Downstream VP said: “No silver bullet, no single option will deliver sustainable growth over the coming decades. Instead we expect to see a diverse range of fuels and vehicle options, up to and beyond 2030.”


Other figures released in the new EEA report show carbon dioxide emissions falling across Europe’s industries, with even the power sector registering a 7.4% decline last year because of coal plant closures and renewable power coming online.

But while the EU’s total emissions fell 4% in 2014, they grew by 1% - or 7Mt – in the road transport sector, more than in the steel and cement industries.

The only other emissions category to register major growth between 1990 and 2014 was hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Emissions from these super-greenhouse gases, used in the production of car air conditioning systems, home coolants and industrial refrigeration also rose by 93Mt.

Damien Morris, the director of Futureproof, a climate consultancy, said: “The road transport sector, which currently represents nearly a fifth of EU emissions, is acting as a drag on Europe’s climate efforts, slowing us down precisely when the Paris Agreement demands that we accelerate.”

Arthur Neslen
The Guardian 21-06-2016